Composting For Dummies
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A great thing about composting is that it can take as much or as little time as you want or need it to. If your time is limited and you want to speed up the process to get compost fast, follow these tips:

  • Increase the surface area of your ingredients. Before adding it to your compost, chop, shred, crack, whack, and smack organic matter into small pieces. (It’s a good stress reliever!) Your effort increases total surface area and creates open wounds in the materials, allowing soil organisms easy access to begin consuming and breaking them down.

  • Take the damp sponge test. Starting a compost pile with too-dry ingredients or allowing ingredients to dry out without remoistening is a direct route to slow decomposition. Fast-acting compost piles contain about 40 to 60 percent water. Squeeze handfuls of compost from various sections of the pile to check its moisture level. Everything should feel like a wrung-out sponge. Turn and rewet materials as needed to maintain this level of moisture.

  • Air it out. Soil organisms require oxygen just as you do. When air supplies are depleted, the organisms die without reproducing in sufficient numbers to keep decomposition zipping along. Keep the little critters in your compost pile well-supplied with oxygen by turning the pile completely every week or two (or three).

    If your time is limited, stick a compost fork or aerating tool into the pile to stir things up. This action doesn’t generate as much oxygen throughout the pile as a total turnover, but it does an acceptable job and only takes a minute or two.

About This Article

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Cathy Cromell is a writer and editor who's written extensively about gardening and landscaping. She is a certified master gardener, master composter, and master entomologist. The National Gardening Association is the leading garden-based educational nonprofit organization in the United States, providing resources at and

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